What is the role of carbon capture and storage in future energy systems?

An industrial plant with a large cloud of emissions
Photo by Chris LeBoutillier on Unsplash
Sunset on the horizon
Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

Demand for Carbon Capture and Storage

The panel was started off by James Jenkins, a Region Segment Manager at DNV. DNV is an assurance and risk management company that provides testing and certification for the maritime industry and the energy value chain. DNV does their own modelling for the world’s energy system and makes forecasts for the energy transition. Jenkins presented graphs to depict the current situation of the energy market. These showed an increasing demand for renewable energy and energy storage alternatives, with more oil and gas companies increasing their investments in renewable energy projects. He also highlighted that carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) is progressing too slowly, which can be attributed to the high costs associated with its implementation. Jenkins stressed the importance of government involvement in giving incentives and providing security for companies.

Example of a UK-based Carbon Capture Project: HyNet

Next, Adam Baddeley, one of the initiators of the HyNet North West Project, spoke about this integrated hydrogen and carbon capture and storage project. HyNet is situated in the Liverpool Bay area, was initiated in 2016 and is planning to go into first operation in 2025. This infrastructure project aims to capture carbon dioxide from both regional industry and low carbon hydrogen production. As it is an infrastructure project, many companies are involved and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) also provided a lot of funding. Eni (an Italian Oil and Gas company) is in charge of transporting and storing the CO2, by refunctionalising exhausted hydrocarbon fields in Liverpool bay which are accessed by 4 platforms. The produced hydrogen can be stored in salt mines and can be transported via pipelines. The reason why pipelines are more effective than trucks for hydrogen transport is that hydrogen has a low density and trucks would use a lot of fuel for transporting a relatively small amount of hydrogen per truck load.

Liverpool Bay
Photo of Liverpool by Ryan Warburton on Unsplash

Basin Analysis

Previously, multiple requirements have been mentioned about the sites that can be used to store carbon dioxide. Mads Huuse, a Professor of Geophysics at the University of Manchester, went into more details of sedimentary basins in sea beds. He stressed the importance of basin analysis for large-scale subsurface carbon storage and the study of overburden. This is the layer above the basin, the integrity and thickness of which largely determines how much CO2 can be safely stored. Professor Huuse also mentioned the importance of international PhD students who accumulate knowledge and then spread it across the world.

A sea bed.
Photo by Isabel Noschka on Unsplash

In Operation Carbon Capture and Storage Facility, Quest Project

In November 2015, Shell took their CCS facility in Scotford, Canada into operation. Owain Tucker, principal technical expert and global deployment lead for CO2 storage at Shell, presented this project called Quest. The Quest project includes the capturing of roughly 1/3 of the carbon produced by the Scotford Upgrader (an oil sand refiner), as well as capturing the CO2 that is a by-product of hydrogen manufacturing. Since being taking into operation, more than 5 million tonnes of CO2 have been transported into the ground. Regarding the storage, salt is a very efficient sealant. Tucker also mentioned the difficulties of dissipating pressure, as the drilling sites of the injection wells are potential leakage sites. Furthermore, he mentioned that carbon capture is flexible and can accommodate fluctuations in carbon dioxide production. For example, when bush fires temporarily caused the stop of hydrogen production, the carbon capture amount could be adjusted accordingly.

An oil refinery
Photo of an oil refinery by Dimitry Anikin on Unsplash

Physical Chemical Aspects

Dr Vahid Niasar, an academic reader at the University of Manchester, joined the panel to talk about the physical chemistry aspects of carbon capturing. The carbon dioxide that we want to store within a basin is trapped due to the basin geometry. Previously, the storage of carbon dioxide with salt as a sealant was mentioned. Dr Niasar went into the details of carbon dioxide diffusion in combination with brine (a solution with a high concentration salt in water). Computer modelling can be an effective way to make assumptions about the system and gives information on the most effective layering to prevent leakages.

How to prevent and mitigate gas leakages

Throughout this entire blog post, we have talked about pumping gas below the earth. But what exactly are these basins and how can we ensure that the CO2 we pump inside does not escape?

A diagram showing with separate polymer chains on the left and a polymer gel on the right (linked by red ‘bridges’ between each individual chain), with an arrow pointing to the latter and the word ‘crosslinker’ above it.
Simplified sketch of gelation (gel formation) by crosslinking polymer chains. On the left, there are the individual chains that have some chemical side groups (the short blue extensions). These side groups can react together with a crosslinker to then form a continuous network, called a gel.
‘CO2’ in a cloud-like white structure against a blue background
Photo by Matthias Heyde on Unsplash
A diagram with chemical equations showing that carbon hydroxide + water forms calcium carbonate + water, while calcium carbonate + water + carbon dioxide -> calcium bicarbonate

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